You've seen them playing basketball with rabid intensity -- both knees taped -- or smiling while they jog through city streets. You've heard them say they get up when it's still dark to get in their morning swim before work. Didn't you ever wonder what motivates people who love exercise for its own sake?

It probably isn't the Institute of Medicine's latest recommendation on physical activity, which suggests that Americans should get an hour of exercise a day. (This is twice as much as the surgeon general previously recommended.)

The problem, of course, is that doctors have trouble getting people to do any exercise, let alone an hour of it a day. It's been estimated that two-thirds of us are couch potatoes.

But what about those people who actually do exercise as much as they're supposed to -- or more? Not professional athletes, but people who have jobs, families and lives.

Here are four such men and women. They like the competition, the companionship, and the high they get from working out. They even have some advice for others who want to get in shape and stay that way.

Kim Cason's best advice:

Set modest goals initially. "If you try to do an hour a day six days a week and then don't do it, you won't do anything at all."

Exercise loves company

The staff at Quest Fitness in Ellicott City call Kim Cason a "group fitness groupie." She doesn't mind. "I don't really like exercising on my own," Cason, 43, says. "I'd get bored just doing the treadmill."

Most days of the week Cason, who lives in Mount Hebron, takes classes in step aerobics, weights and cycling.

She ticks off the reasons she enjoys exercising. There's the social aspect: She likes her instructors and the other women in the classes. She feels better and is more energetic; she has better muscle tone and less body fat. And, of course, "If I exercise, I can eat more."

Friday night is pizza night at the Cason home; she indulges without guilt.

As her life has gotten more stressful -- she is a psychologist and the mother of a 10-year-old and 4-year-old -- she has started spending more time in the gym. It's not easy fitting in classes, but it's worth it to her. (She attends one at 6 a.m. so she can get to her Pikesville office by 9:30.)

When she goes on vacation, she packs a jump rope and an exercise band and uses them to stay in shape. She also jogs outdoors when the weather is warmer.

Her husband is willing to baby-sit, a necessity when you have the kind of schedule she does. "He's very complimentary," says Cason, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. "He likes the results."

She wasn't physically active until her 20s, when her mother suggested they join a health spa together. Cason went regularly, until she was pregnant with her second child and ordered to go on bed rest; then the baby was colicky and couldn't be taken to the gym. After almost a year, she put her foot down. Her daughter would have to get used to the gym's baby-sitting service.

"In the first class I got that high again," she says. "It didn't take me long to get back into it."

Jason Powell's best advice:

Stick with it. "If you decide to take one day off, it can turn into two days. It can snowball. It's easy to make excuses."

A rugged sport

If you love a sport, you need to be in shape to play it. When it's rugby, a run-and-scrum sport played without timeouts or substitutions, you have to be in fantastic shape. (You've probably seen the bumper sticker: "Give blood. Play rugby.")

Jason Powell, 28, trains for the Baltimore amateur league season by doing an hour or so of weight training alternating with sprint work at a track. His week includes a session of interval training and at least one jog of three or four miles. When the rugby season starts in the spring, he'll have twice-a-week practices and games Saturday.

Oh, yes. Sometimes he runs for 20 or 30 minutes before work.

When you ask Powell, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds, why he exercises as much as he does, he says, "For self-gratification as much as anything else."

His schedule would be easier to understand if he didn't have a life outside the playing fields. But he has a full-time job as a client manager at T. Rowe Price in Owings Mills, with a half-hour commute each way from his home in Federal Hill.

"I have to [exercise] right after work," he says. "If I go home first, I don't do it."

He usually doesn't get home from his workouts until 7:30 p.m., and he falls into bed at 10 p.m. With this much physical activity, he finds he needs eight hours of sleep a night.

But even people who love to exercise have their ups and downs. In December, Powell took a couple of weeks off. "Getting started again was the hardest," he admits.

Powell started playing rugby at Juniata College in Pennsylvania, but really got into the sport when he studied in Japan in '96. The Japanese, he says, are rugby fanatics.

"Through playing rugby, I've met so many incredible people, and I've been able to travel all over the country and even abroad," he says. "That also helps make the training schedule and fitness work that much easier."

About the only problem he's had with exercising as much as he does is that he gets shin splints from the running.

"Sometimes it seems like I have no time to relax," he says, "but the positives outweigh the negatives."

Nicole Lipinski's best advice:

Change your attitude. "People have to learn to enjoy [exercise], not see it as a chore."

Hooked on triathlons

Some people are happy exercising just to stay in shape, but not Nicole Lipinski, 30. She needs something to work for. No matter how much you like physical activity, it's hard to run or swim day after day without some kind of goal.

"When you've been exercising a long time, you need to challenge yourself," says the lawyer who lives in Glen Arm and works in Towson. She's training for the Columbia triathlon, an event in May that includes a one-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6-mile run. She completed her first triathlon last year and plans to compete in several during the May-to-October season.

"Right now with small kids I'm happy just doing the local ones," she says. (She's the mother of a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old.)

Lipinski joins a group of women every Saturday before dawn at Loch Raven reservoir and runs 10 miles. Until the triathlon season begins, she's trying to exercise four or five hours on the weekend and one to two hours most weekdays.

She's lucky. Her heavy training schedule has resulted in no physical problems except for some minor tendinitis.

Lipinski, who is 5 feet 5 inches and weighs 130 pounds, played lacrosse for Notre Dame Preparatory School but didn't take up a sport again until last year. While she was in law school at the University of Baltimore, she ran because it was convenient. She started swimming while she was pregnant with her second child. But she got into her current intensive exercise program because of other people. Some women friends at her gym, Merritt Athletic Club in Towson, talked her into competing in her first triathlon.

"They drew me into it," she says.

After that she was hooked.

Charles Blume's best advice:

Join a gym. "If you have trouble exercising on your own, [a gym has] support people, if nothing else."

Back in the groove

Sometimes dealing with existing health problems and preventing others is enough reason to take up an active lifestyle -- and keep at it.

At age 52, Charles Blume, a lecturer at Towson University in early childhood education, decided he had to get back in shape. He had been religious about exercising when he first moved to Baltimore, but stopped five years ago because of family problems.

"My father was ill, and there was no time. I gained 40 pounds," says Blume, who now lives in Bolton Hill.

The weight gain alone wasn't enough to get him back to the gym, but then two things happened.

First, he sprained a ligament in his foot, and it was slow to heal. His doctor told him losing weight would help. Then he had a bone density scan (there was a family history of osteoporosis) and learned he was starting to lose bone mass. He decided to join Meadow Mill Athletic Club in Hampden, even though he wasn't sure what exercise he could do with his injured foot.

"At the beginning, everything is an effort," he says. "It didn't take as long as I thought for that to change."

At first he could only exercise on the recumbent bike. (The upright stationary bike aggravated his lower back.) Now, a year and a half later, his foot has healed and he's lost 20 pounds, so he's started using the treadmill and the elliptical machine, which works arms and legs.

"I overdo it," Blume, 54, admits when he talks about his hour-or-more-a-day schedule at the gym. "But I like to read while I bike."

It's the one time he allows himself the indulgence of reading murder mysteries.

The exercise has paid off. The 5-foot-11-inch Blume now weighs 190 pounds. Besides the weight loss, his last bone scan showed that with exercise and taking calcium his test results are back in the normal range. But beyond the practical results, he says, he just likes the workout.

"I see myself as always belonging to a gym," he says.

Are you exercising enough? Here's how to tell

The Institute of Medicine believes that to maintain a desirable weight and good health, people should be doing an hour a day of moderately intense physical activity. But what exactly does that mean?

Don't despair if you can't get to the gym for an hour's workout every day. Much of what you do anyway counts toward the total. Exercise is cumulative through the day; gardening or walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator can add up.

"Low intensity" activities would include walking up stairs at a normal pace and housecleaning. "Moderately intense" would be walking four miles in an hour.

If you do "high intensity" activities like jogging or swimming, the institute's report says, you could exercise as little as four times a week.

-- Elizabeth Large

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